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Review: Mama

Universal Pictures: MamaWhen she’s on her way to becoming a has been in Hollywood, Jessica Chastain can look at 2012 as the year in her career that made her into a big name. She starred in a good movie called Lawless, but she made her biggest splash with the award nominated (and overrated) Zero Dark Thirty. Well, fresh off of her popularity boost from the “real” story about the hunt for Bin Laden, Chastain stars in Mama, her first movie of 2013. Will people like this movie? How will it be perceived now that the lead actress is coming off of such a great year?

Chastain’s swift return to the big screen for 2013 starts on a cold winter day when three-year old Victoria and one year old Lilly vanish without a trace immediately following the murders of their mother and father earlier in the day. The trail grows cold for the siblings and the hunt dies down as no one can locate the girls. It appears like the search won’t end in a positive fashion, but that doesn’t stop their uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) from continuing his hunt with the hopes of a happy ending.

With the continuous search bringing results that are void of any answers and leaving Lucas’ funds nearly completely exhausted, he and his long-time love Annabel (Jessica Chastain) look to be heading toward the end of the road. Soon, the only hope they’ll have remaining looks like it’ll be containing a lot of prayer while hoping for the best. You’re looking at two babies with no survival skills and no contact with anyone else. The chances of surviving are slim, and only a miracle can save them.

By a stroke of luck, their prayers appear to have been answered right in the nick of time when Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nélisse) are found alive in an old cabin that seems to have been abandoned for years. Any clear thinking person would probably wonder “how the two children survived for all those years under such harsh conditions?” Well, Lucas and Annabel are understandably not thinking clearly. They’re just glad to see that the five-year search ended on a positive note.

After finding the girls in that dilapidated cabin, the two lovebirds are met with the difficult task of being first time parents to kids who haven’t seen a loving home in a half a decade. With virtually no home training, the two youngsters need to get reintroduced to living within an actual and that’s not easy for them to do. They’re wild and unaccustomed to discipline, but the duo may have also brought an unexpected guest along with them.Once arriving at the home, a spirit that the girls call “Mama” slips into their new living quarters in a cloak of darkness. The adults don’t witness anything abnormal at first, but their suspicions grow over time.

In Mama, the build up is what you might anticipate seeing in any scary movie. There’s a slow sense of escalation that helps the audience learn about the story, while they’re also trying to creep you out with only slight glimpses of what we’re waiting for. At this point, there are some decent tricks being put to good use during some of the interactions between Mama and the living beings who inhibit this world, but none of it is mind-blowing or unforgettable.

This aspect of Mama being only serviceable is okay with me, because I was waiting for all of the stuff that’s to come after all of this is settled and Mama gets to truly make her presence felt when she shows herself to Annabel, Lucas and the other unsuspecting adults. You know there are all types of ghostly trappings that might be waiting around the corner for the viewers who are patiently waiting for everything to jump off.

When this motherly apparition does arrive to show us what she’s made of, that slow, creepy feel that Andres Muschietti wants to interject into the film disappears rather quickly. We’re able to see a shadowy figure, this menace whose possessive and protective of what’s hers in the early going and you know that there’s potential. However, once mama fully reveals herself, you feel a bit let down.

Yeah, the mood changes into something that’s more violent and with an aggressive tone, but it does so in more of an animated way that doesn’t let you grasp onto the desperation and fear that the characters are supposed to be going through.It looks as if they play it a little safe here due to the fact that it’s a PG-13 horror movie. I guess when you look at it like that, you can understand the way it’s done although it deals with some mature content.

One of the biggest let downs comes from the malevolent ghost herself. She doesn’t look scary, menacing or dangerous at all. She’s just an ugly black/purple spirit that has long flowing hair. Thinking of how she looked before you see her is actually far more interesting, because she actually looks so plain when you get a full view of her.

During the times when she’s wreaking havoc in Mama, the vindictive ghost with sinister intentions does manage to create a few different scenes where she may startle you once or twice through out the duration of the film. Those parts are decent, but they should never be the highlight of a horror film. Doing so could mean that the rest of the movie isn’t very good.

To me, Mama isn’t a fantastic movie by any means. There’s some potential here that never gets tapped and it seems as if they simply whiffed on a few of the opportunities they had. To say that it’s bad wouldn’t be accurate, but I do have to say it never completely gets to where it should be. That sucks for me, because I love horror films and I’m always waiting for the next good one. Luckily, it is still early in 2013. My quest continues….

Score: 2/5

Rating: PG-13

Director: Andres Muschietti

Jessica Chastain
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
Megan Charpentier
Isabelle Nélisse
Daniel Kash

Film Length: 106 minutes

Release Date: January 18, 2013

Distributor: Universal Pictures

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